Round the Mountain 2019

Round the Mountain (aka RTM) is traditionally my first race of the year. There are two constants from year to year:

  • It’s always cold. Even if the air isn’t terribly cold, the water will be.
  • It’s always calm when we arrive and the wind rises starting around the time of the racers meeting and is pretty strong by race time.

Everything else is variable. It can be cloudy, it can be sunny. There can be a big field or a small field. It can be mostly kayaks or mostly canoes. It can rain, it can snow. It can be headwinds or cross winds. I’ve even heard tell it can be a tail wind but I’ve never seen it.

Before I say anything else, though, I just want to say Dave W is an awesome competitor and it’s a privilege to compete against him, and anything disparaging I might say about his tactics is meant in a sense of fun and jealousy of his tactical sense.

So the forecast for this morning was for 44F and winds from 9-10 mph from the north west. So of course the discussion for the last week was on what to wear. And we were still discussing it 15 minutes before the start. But at that point it was time to commit and go out and warm up. I went for my usual full Vaikobi v-cold kit. I decided not to wear the storm top, but I wore a light top over the v-cold top and under the PFD. I wore my toque under a baseball style cap, thinking I could take it off if I needed to cool down a bit. In retrospect, I was probably a bit under dressed. I was cold in the beam waves on the first lake and again in the headwind on the last two lakes, although I was fine in the sheltered middle part.

Immediately off the start, Roger and Eileen went off like a shot in their V8 Double. There were four other kayaks up ahead – Eric Y, Scott V, Dave W and some guy I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t really so who was ahead of whom, because they weren’t in a pack, but kind of spread out. Also, I realized rather quickly that I should have stopped for a pee before the race. Mike and I were latched onto the wake of a moderately fast c-2. I like being on someone’s wake for the first lake because even if it doesn’t do much to flatten the waves, it gives you something to concentrate on other than the waves. And once we left Ampersand Bay, there were some waves. Not huge, but from the beam and kind of irregular. I was glad for Tim and Pete’s C-2 wake. Dave W was obviously having problems with the waves, and at one point he pointed his boat off course and more into the waves. I couldn’t tell if he was going that because of balance, or if he was hunting the wake of a c-2, but I did see him on the wake of a wooden c-2 behind me. I’d tell you more about what was happening behind, but my front GoPro shut itself off during my warm up for no apparent reason.

As is my habit in RTM, just as we’re out of the wind and waves on the lake before the river, I put on a blast of speed and passed the c-2 I’d been riding. I could see Scott V about a hundred yards ahead and I wanted to try and catch him. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope of doing so, because he’s become very fast over the last year and he demolished me at the USCA champs. But I think I was creeping closer on the river, mostly by using very aggressive lines and trying for every shortcut and direct line. But he gained about 200 more yards on the portage, so it was all for naught.

I’d snuck a few glances back on the river and I was pretty sure I didn’t have anybody close behind – neither Mike or Dave, at least. I passed some first wave people, including a c-4 that was weaving all over the place and a man and a woman with two little kids in the middle more intent on getting their snacks than paddling.

At the carry, I was my usual omnishambles and when I saw that on the downhill it looked like somebody has slid I crept down very carefully. The water was high enough that I was able to launch from the dock, which was a relief. I didn’t want to have to wade out in the freezing cold water. But because of Scott ahead and Dave behind, I didn’t take the time to pee. I still regret that.

I find it hard to get paddling hard again after the portage, but seeing Scott ahead was the incentive to work hard. I took a few short cuts but they weren’t really making an impression on the gap. There is one very important “sneak” on the second part of the course. If the water is high enough, it can cut off at least 50 yard, although because you have to slow down for it it doesn’t have as much time impact as you might think. This year, I decided not to take it, because I hadn’t scouted it ahead of time like I did last year. But after I was committed to skip it, I looked and could see a clear path through and blue water. And I could see Dave following a c-2 into it. Shit.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before Dave caught me, but I put the hammer down to try and hold that off. It couldn’t have been 500 yards later that I sensed he was on my wake. So taking a page from his book, I stopped for a drink and let him take the lead. I first tried his side wake but he was (possibly intentionally?) throwing up a lot of water and it was too cold for that shit. So I dropped onto his stern wake. But the c-2 that he’d been following before had caught back up to us and were slowly creeping ahead. I thought “slightly faster, bigger wake, what a deal” and moved over to their wake. I thought Dave would try to fight me for the stern wake but instead he settled for their side wake.

At this point I have about 2km to consider my options. There weren’t many. Dave has always been a much better sprinter than me. So I could try to put the hammer down and drop him, but that hasn’t worked out well for me in the past. Also I was pretty close to my limit and I didn’t think I could raise my pace much. So I decided the only thing to do would be to not provoke him to sprint until the very last minute so I wouldn’t lose too much time to him.

That plan actually worked out. We had a very strong headwind for the last part, and I was very happy to be behind the c-2 – not only did I get the wake, I also got a bit of wind break. I was kind of thinking that when I did go I’d go around them to the right, opposite from Dave, but they started veering to the right and I didn’t want to go that extra distance. Dave and I both started our sprints at exactly the same time, and I lost barely a single boat length on him.

I was pretty pleased with my result. Dave was in touring class, and Scott is a youngster, and even Eric is still under 50, so the only person ahead of me in my class was Ed Joy, who is a legendary paddler from Maine(?). He was the fastest paddler in the race, faster than Roger and Eileen in their double and faster than any of the canoes.

Considering that I was sick half the winter, I’m pretty pleased how this went. Felt like I worked hard, but got a good result. Not my fastest RTM by far, but the conditions weren’t exactly the best either.

Tentative 2019 Race Schedule

  • 11 May – ‘Round The Mountain
  • 8-9 June – Madrid Canoe Regatta
  • 29 June – Tupper Lake
  • 30 June – Celebrate Paddling
  • 6 July – Armond Bassett
  • 13 July – Electric City
  • 14 July – Barge Chaser
  • 28 July – BluMouLA-BuFuRa
  • 8-11 Aug – USCA Canoe & Kayak Nationals
  • 17 Aug – Wells Bridge
  • 6-8 Sep – Adirondack Canoe Classic
  • 14-15 Sep – Lighthouse To Lighthouse
  • 21 Sep – Long Lake
  • 29 Sep – Seneca Monster
  • 13 Oct – Onondaga Cup

Video Updates

I’m excited about the 2019 kayak racing (and video) season. I’ve made some changes to my video production, and I think they’re going to be great.

  • I bought two new GoPro Hero 7 Black cameras. I’m really excited about these, because the stabilization is amazing. Also, they shoot in 4K/60. In the past, I’ve sort of vacillated between shooting in 1080p at 60 frames per second and shooting in 4K at 30 frames per second. I love the extra detail in 4K (even though I don’t know how many of my loyal watchers actually watch in 4K, I do and I love it) but I also like how much better the action looks at 60 frames per second. Now I don’t have to choose. I was lucky that GoPro had a trade-in deal where you could trade in any digital video camera in any condition and get $100 off, so I took advantage of that to get rid of some old cameras that don’t work any more, my old Kodak Playsport and my broken Polaroid XS100. I was also able to sell my Hero 5 Black for $150. I’ve hung on to my Hero 5 Session, but I have a couple of ideas on how to use that that I’ll talk about down below.
  • I also bought a new Final Cut Pro X plugin that will allow me to (hopefully) put labels on moving objects (ie other paddlers). I have some ideas on how to use that, I hope they look at good as I think they will.
  • In order to get more battery life out of the Hero 7s, I’m going to be using two of the same combination waterproof case + sidecar battery that I’ve been using on my bow in 2018. I’m not looking forward to having that on my head as it’s 120 grams heavier than the former setup with the Hero 5 Session and the external battery. But those are the sacrifices I make for my art.
  • Unfortunately the waterproof case means the cameras won’t pick up any of the sounds of the race. I’m going to miss having the dialog – one of the cool things about racing is the way people talk to each other in the middle of a race, and I always tried to capture that in my videos. I’ve been looking through various sites with Creative Commons licensed music and I’m thinking about going back to having music instead of the sounds of the race. Hope you all like Celtic music.
  • Another possibility is to use my Hero 5 Session behind me facing backwards to provide a view behind me when people are riding my wake (which happens distressingly often) and also to pick up some sound.
  • If I don’t do that, another thought I had was to use the Session to try to capture some of ambiance of the pre and post race activities. Maybe that’s just because last weekend was the Banff Mountain Film Festival at RIT, and I’m inspired by their story telling.
  • Ok, now for the hard part. Obviously I’ve spent a bunch of money on my video equipment this year, and there are a few other things I would like, including a SSD (solid state drive) to make my video production faster. So this year, I’m going to try to put a link on every video where people can buy me a virtual coffee. Maybe if some of the people who tell me how much they love my videos put their money where their mouths are, I can get that SSD this year.

Video stuff

I found a really cool Final Cut Pro plugin that puts a motion tracked point on your video and builds out a title that moves with the tracked point. I’ve experimented with it a bit and I think I’ll be able to use it to point out people and other points of interest in my videos. The only problem I’ve found with it is that if the point you’re tracking is even briefly obscured, it will lose tracking and its mind.

2018 Look Back

2018 started out pretty shitty. I was unemployed, and my unemployment insurance had run out. Depressed due to the long employment search and other things, I started the year out of shape and overweight, only to be hit with two massive bouts of sickness that pretty much wiped out my winter training and dieting, meaning I hit the racing season with very few miles under my belt and a lot more fat under there.

I got a job in February, and while it was interesting the pay was quite low – I’d actually earned more as a full timer with benefits in 2001 than I was earning as an hourly contractor with no benefits at this job. So midway though the year I left that job for another which paid much better. I hate to be a job hopper like that but the difference in pay was hard to believe.

Because of the reduced financial circumstances this year, I didn’t do a lot of the “away” things I’ve done in previous years – no TC Surfski Immersion Weekend, no Canadian Surfski Champs, no Gorge, no Lighthouse to Lighthouse. Instead I concentrated on doing as many NYMCRA races as possible, even camping out to save money instead of getting hotels for away races. I did several races I’ve never done before, including the two days of Madrid and the lovely Blue Mountain Lake race.

Even better, the USCA national championship races were held in Syracuse. I had two really good 10 mile races – unfortunately both races were 12 miles. Both times I lead a pack of racers for the first 10 miles, then faded and got passed by all of them in the last 2 miles. Definitely something to work on this year.

I started the season completely out of shape with the intention of racing my way into shape, hoping to peak with the USCA Champs. It worked pretty well, and in spite of my tactical errors there, I had a really good race at Long Lake. I was hoping to continue with the final race of the season, the Seneca Monster, but it got cancelled.

In other good news, I really dialed in my video production workflow, aided by the fact that I now have a high end iMac. Also, I got a really amazing carbon fibre GoPro mount for the front of my kayak – not only lighter than my older aluminum one, but also more aerodynamic. After the end of the season, GoPro released a new camera, the Hero 7 Black, with a much touted “Hyper Stabilization” mode. I bought one and tried it out and it is pretty amazing. I can’t wait to use it for races next year.

I also bought a new boat – I did some side work for a pilot friend of mine and used part of the money to buy a V8 Pro, a more stable boat than my V10 Sport, but still pretty fast. During interval workouts on the bay, I found I could just put the power down instead of bracing and trying to keep upright.

One of my daughters got engaged this year. I really like her fiance and they seem really good together.

Both of my parents had health setbacks this year. I think this coming year’s travel plans will have to mostly involve visiting them.